Election Live, September 9: Six new Covid-19 cases, all linked to church cluster

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 9, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other New Zealand news. Find official Covid-19 information here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Explore the parties’ pledges at Policy. I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

The day in sum

Six new cases of Covid-19 were announced, all with links to the Auckland church at the centre of a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

Four of the new cases are part of a group of 14 linked to a “series of bereavement activities”, including a funeral and visits to the household of the bereaved.

Three Auckland eateries have been listed as “locations of interest” by the Ministry of Health after customers tested positive for Covid-19

Some partners of New Zealanders stuck overseas will now be allowed to enter New Zealand under new border rules.

New residents stuck offshore will also be allowed to keep their residency status while Covid-19 travel restrictions remain in place.

Labour will introduce a new top tax rate for the country’s highest earners if re-elected to government.

National is promising a new “infrastructure bank” to streamline and fund projects if elected to government.

9pm: Three Auckland eateries linked to new Covid-19 cases

The Ministry of Health has listed three Auckland hospitality venues as “locations of interest” after customers tested positive for Covid-19. They include Crave Cafe in Morningside, Bricklane Restaurant & Bar in New Lynn and Kreem Bake Cook in Henderson.

The ministry stresses that risk from these locations is “most often very low”, but “casual contacts are asked to monitor their health and get medical advice from their GP or Healthline if they become unwell”.

Anyone who was at one of the venues during the time-frames cited is “not required to start self-isolating unless you feel unwell or start to develop Covid-19 symptoms”.

For more on this story, read Alice Neville’s report on The Spinoff here.

3.00pm: National promises new ‘infrastructure bank’

A new National government would launch a new Crown-owned “infrastructure bank” to streamline and fund projects.

The new institution would combine several existing entities into a single agency that provides finance and advice to central and local government infrastructure projects.

Entities that will be consolidated to form the new agency are:

  • Crown infrastructure partners
  • New Zealand Green Investment Finance Limited
  • Residual holdings at Crown Irrigation Investments Limited
  • Loans made by the Provincial Growth Fund
  • Other loan portfolios across the Crown balance sheet where appropriate

National’s leader Judith Collins has made the announcement in Wellington today. She said the agency will offer an “avenue for institutional investors such as ACC, NZ Super Fund, iwi, KiwiSaver providers and Australian pension funds to take on investment risk in New Zealand infrastructure assets”.

Speaking to media after the announcement, Collins labelled the announcement a “positive policy from the positive National Party”.

Questioned on Labour’s tax policy, Collins repeated her party’s line that more taxes would be in the pipeline – despite Labour ruling that out.

“It’s just the start isn’t it,” Collins suggested. “We’ve seen Grant Robertson today rule out any tax cuts, but he sounded… incapable of ruling out any more tax grabs.” Labour has since confirmed they would not implement any part of the Green Party’s tax policy in addition to ruling out future taxes of their own.

2.30pm: Tracking our latest Covid-19 community cases

There have now been 30 reported Covid-19 cases in the community, all believed to have stemmed from the Auckland August cluster, since the Auckland region moved out of level three lockdown on September 1.

2.15pm: Some overseas partners allowed to enter NZ under new rules

A swathe of updates to the government’s border plan have been unveiled this afternoon, loosening our watertight restrictions and allowing some partners of New Zealanders stuck overseas to enter the country.

“Under Covid border restrictions, partners of New Zealand citizens and residents wanting to enter this country need to have either a relationship-based visa, or be travelling with their New Zealand citizen or resident family member, or be ordinarily resident in New Zealand,” immigration minister Kris Faafoi said.

“As more New Zealanders return from overseas, we want to enable them to be reunited with their loved ones here in New Zealand while also ensuring that only genuine partnerships are given that right.”

Under changes being introduced from early October, Australian citizens or citizens of visa waiver countries living outside New Zealand, but who are partners of New Zealand citizens and residents, may be granted an exception to travel to New Zealand.

“They will be required to submit a border exception request and demonstrate that they are in a genuine and stable relationship,” Faafoi confirmed.

Meanwhile, the government’s announced changes to help new residents stuck offshore keep their residency status while Covid-19 travel restrictions remain in place.

Individuals who are granted a resident visa must travel to New Zealand within a certain timeframe to activate their visa, something that current border restrictions are making difficult.

“Iindividuals whose travel conditions are about to expire will receive a 12 month extension to travel to New Zealand, and those whose travel conditions have expired on or after 2 February 2020 (when travel restrictions began) will be issued a new visa, also valid for 12 months,” Faafoi announced.

Finally, the government is creating a new border exception category to enable the return of some temporary work visa holders who are overseas and have strong, ongoing links to New Zealand.

“Many of these visa holders and their families have lived in New Zealand for years and have built lives here with the hope and expectation that they would be able to stay longer-term in New Zealand,” Faafoi said.

“It is only fair to let these visa holders return given their long-standing and ongoing connections to this country.”

Cabinet has also agreed to a $50 million funding boost for Customs to further support its 24/7 presence at all international maritime ports.

1.00pm: Six new Covid-19 cases, all linked to church cluster

Updated

There are six new Covid-19 cases today, Ashley Bloomfield has revealed, all with links to the Auckland church at the centre of a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

The Mount Roskill church “sub-cluster” has wider, epidemiological links to the main Auckland cluster.

Four of the new cases are part of a group of 14 linked to what Bloomfield described as a “series of bereavement activities”, including a funeral on September 2 attended by 48 people. There were also visits to the household of the bereaved, including on an occasion where one person was infectious.

In response to a question from The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti, Bloomfield confirmed that person had received a Covid-19 test (due to being a close contact) but had not received the result before they decided to visit the household.

All attendees of the funeral are now in self-isolation, and have been, or are being, tested. At the time of the funeral, in Auckland, up to 50 people were allowed at funerals and tangihanga if they were registered first with the Ministry of Health and a contact tracing record of everyone who attended was kept.

Bloomfield said “many if not all” of the church’s membership have been tested for Covid-19, but due to the ongoing discovery of new cases they are being asked to get another test.

“We are asking all members of that fellowship to be tested, and anyone who may have had contact with members of that fellowship,” said Bloomfield, adding that this advice applied even to asymptomatic people.

After a student from St Dominic’s Catholic College tested positive yesterday, Bloomfield encouraged contacts of the student to get tested, and said testing was available for the wider school community. Despite reports from health minister Chris Hipkins during his morning media run, Bloomfield verified this student was not a close contact of an initial Mount Roskill cluster case.

Another case reported yesterday is a driver on the Northern Express bus service, said Bloomfield. Auckland Regional Public Health would this afternoon be releasing detailed information about the routes and times the driver was on duty, said Bloomfield, which were on September 3 and 4 between 5.30am and 1pm, and 4pm and 6.15pm.

The driver was not symptomatic at that time and wore a mask and gloves when on shift. Hop card data is being used to identify those who were on board, who would be contacted but not required to self-isolate.

One of yesterday’s cases is a health worker at Hāpai Te Hauora, confirmed Bloomfield.

‘Some reluctance’ to testing by Mount Roskill church group

Initial reluctance to testing by members of the Mount Roskill Evangelical Church group has now been overcome, Bloomfield said.

“Early on, as the public health unit was engaging with that church, there was some reluctance of some of the members of that community to engage and/or be tested.”

There was now a high level of testing and cooperation now, he added.

The new cases connected to the bereavement were not members of the wider church community, but had come into contact with someone who was infected, he said. Of today’s six new cases, two were already in isolation, said Bloomfield. The others were disclosed as close contacts through the new bereavement events. There have been 108 contacts identified in connection with the recent bereavement events.

Bloomfield believed there was a meeting of the church group on August 15, during the period Auckland was in alert level three, and this was shut down by police. He did not believe there was a subsequent investigation into this gathering.

Asked what colour his “dashboard was flashing” in response to the latest outbreak, Bloomfield said orange, and it wouldn’t flash green until this outbreak was “well circled”.

“It’s raising some flags, and that’s why we’re working really quickly,” he said.

The Mountt Roskill sub-cluster cases now numbered between 30 and 40, Bloomfield estimated.

Elevator ‘most likely’ source of Rydges case 

An investigation into how a Rydges Hotel maintenance worker contracted Covid-19, despite having no known contact with a US traveller with the same strand of the virus, has concluded surface transmission was “most likely” the cause.

Bloomfield said it’s believed the worker caught the virus from an elevator that had earlier been used by the US traveller.

Two people still in ICU with Covid-19 

Since August 11, 3,346 close contacts of Covid-19 cases have been identified, 3,305 of whom have been contacted and are self-isolating.

In the past week, 84% of close contacts have been contacted and have been self-isolating within 48 hours of notification of a positive test, Bloomfield said.

There are now 74 people linked to the Auckland community cluster in the quarantine facility, including 58 people who have tested positive.

Four people are currently in hospital with Covid-19, one in ICU at North Shore Hospital, one at ICU at Waikato Hospital, and two on a ward at North Shore.

Four people have recovered, bringing the total number of active cases to 125, 43 of which are imported cases and 82 are community cases. The total number of confirmed cases is now 1,437.

Yesterday 8,363 tests were processed, bringing the total to 831,517.

There are now 2,161,200 registered users of the Covid Tracer app and an average of 2.15 million scans per day. An update to the app today will make scanning QR codes quicker, said Bloomfield.

Asked how confident he was that the new cases could be contained in a level two environment, Bloomfield said wider testing and solid contact tracing and isolation would be crucial.

Christchurch Covid scare an old infection

The recent Covid scare in Christchurch was a relative of a victim of the mosque terror attacks who travelled to New Zealand for the sentencing, Bloomfield said.

The man completed mandatory isolation, where he was tested twice, and then had two further tests – while results of the first test were negative, the second returned a weak positive, which is believed to have been an old infection. His close contacts were put into isolation as a precaution and retested. All were negative.

12.45pm: Bloomfield’s back – does he have good news?

The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield is back at the podium today for an update on any new Covid-19 cases.

Yesterday there were six new cases: four linked to the Mount Roskill church “sub-cluster” and two detected in managed isolation.

Watch below

12.30pm: Tax policy about providing ‘certainty and confidence’ – Ardern

The prime minister has defended Labour’s tax policy, which some have criticised for being too lenient on high earners. Just the top 2% of incomes will be impacted by the party’s new tax rate of 39% for income over $180,000, bringing in roughly $550 million in revenue.

Jacinda Ardern is speaking to media during her visit to Whakatāne today, opting not to be at the launch of the tax policy in Wellington alongside Grant Robertson.

“Now is the time to provide New Zealanders with certainty and confidence,” Ardern said. “With this policy it assures that we will not have harsh cuts to health and education,” she said.

Ardern said the policy is about being balanced and helps to keep a lid on debt.

Questioned on whether there could be more tax announcements in the future, Ardern once again ruled out a capital gains tax. “This is the totality of our tax policy,” Ardern said, while not categorically denying further deals with a possible coalition partner.

Ardern labels National criticism of tax policy ‘misinformation’

National has jumped to criticise today’s announcement, with finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith claiming today’s announcement would just be the start of new taxes  – despite Labour ruling it out.

“Labour will eventually widen the net and come after middle income earners,” Goldsmith alleged. “Labour has predictably gone back to old habits after the failure of its capital gains tax this term.” Ardern called this statement “misinformation” and “opposition politics”.

Meanwhile, Act’s leader David Seymour labelled the policy “divisive populism”.

“Jacinda Ardern likes to say we’re all in this together, but Labour is picking on a small group of New Zealanders to fund the Covid-19 recovery,” Seymour said.

“Labour is telling young New Zealanders ‘if you study hard, get good grades, get a good job, save money, and invest wisely, we’ll tax you harder’. That’s the wrong message.”

Labour tax plan ‘tinkering’ that won’t address ‘growing wealth gap’ – Greens

Labour’s coalition partner have offered soft praise of today’s tax announcement, saying it’s “long overdue” but that it’s simply “tinkering that won’t address the long-term challenges facing Aotearoa”.

Greens’ co-leader James Shaw said the tax policy demonstrates why his party should be part of the next government.

“New Zealand has increasing poverty and inequality. This is now getting worse, because the Covid-19 response is increasing the wealth of those who own property and shares, whilst the median income of working New Zealanders is falling.

“The Greens believe we should ask those who are benefitting the most to chip in a bit of what they’ve gained to help the people who need support during this crisis,” Shaw said.

11.00am: Labour pledges new tax rate for just top 2%

A re-elected Labour-led government would introduce a new top tax rate for the country’s highest earners, Grant Robertson has revealed.

Income earned above $180,000 would be taxed at 39% with no change to income tax for those earning less. That means just 2% of the country would notice any change to their pay check. Robertson justified the decision to increase the tax policy for just the most wealthy New Zealanders, saying it “strikes the right balance”. For reference, the lowest paid MPs earn $160,000, so will not be impacted by this change. In 2005, then-National Party leader Don Brash proposed an even harsher tax policy.

“This policy is about maintaining investment in important services that are so crucial for New Zealanders like health and education, while keeping tax rates exactly the same as they are now for 98% of people,” Robertson said.

Labour estimates the new tax bracket will yield additional annual revenue of around $550 million. As of a fortnight ago, the Covid-19 wage subsidy had already paid out more than $13 billion – or 24 times that. A report in May suggested legalising cannabis could bring in almost $500 million in revenue.

“I have made it my focus over this term of government to manage our books carefully and bring down debt. That focus will continue. Generating extra revenue now will help keep debt under control,” Robertson said.

The policy’s been announced in Wellington today, with the prime minister out of town in Whakatāne. She’ll be addressing media in about an hour’s time.

Robertson said the new tax bracket will cost those earning $200,000 a year an extra $23 each week. Overall, he posited, this “will make a big difference to the country’s ability to maintain the investments needed for the economy to bounce back”.

Despite speculation, Robertson confirmed today’s announcement will be the full extent of Labour’s revenue policy for the 2020 election. “Labour will not implement any new taxes or make any further increases to income tax next term,” Robertson said.

“We have already committed to not raising fuel taxes in the government transport plan that covers the next term.”

Labour’s revenue spokesperson Stuart Nash has justified the new tax bracket by comparing New Zealand to Australia, where the top tax range is 47%.

“In these uncertain times we need stability in our tax system. Under our plan, 98% of New Zealanders won’t be affected by these changes. The company tax rate is not changing, giving businesses continuity and certainty,” Nash said.

Labour is also committing to continue work with the OECD to find a solution to the issue of multi-national corporations not paying their share of tax, and may introduce a “digital services tax”.

“Labour will continue to work to get an international agreement that will see a comprehensive regime for multinational corporations to pay their fair share. But we also need to be prepared to put in place our own rules to ensure fairness, if that agreement is not possible,” Grant Robertson said.

The new tax range would come into force from the next tax year and, Robertson said, is a relatively simple legislative change.

Tax policy will raise ‘more than capital gains tax’

Tax expert Terry Baucher told The Spinoff the $550 million estimated to be raised from the new tax range is more than the tax working group estimated would be raised by a capital gains tax.

“There’s no change proposed to the existing thresholds so bracket creep, where people move across tax thresholds as incomes rise, will continue and that’s worth maybe $400 million a year – remember someone crossing the $48,000 threshold sees their marginal tax rate go from 17.5% to 30%, a significantly bigger jump than from 33% to 39%,” Baucher said.

“Taxing multinationals more isn’t going to raise significant cash either, maybe $200 million tops (including a digital services tax).”

Baucher said that the new policy will “help” but there should be a debate about the “appropriate level of tax”.

10.30am: Labour set to reveal tax policy

Grant Robertson will be revealing Labour’s tax policy at a media conference in Wellington this morning. He’ll be joined by the party’s revenue spokesperson Stuart Nash.

The prime minister, however, is dodging the throng of journalists in Wellington. Jacinda Ardern’s in Whakatāne today, but will be answering questions at a stand-up at midday.

We’ll have all the details here from 11am.

On the campaign trail

Here’s where our political leaders are today:

  • Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern is in Whakatāne today to meet with Whakaari first responders. She’ll be fronting reporters at midday after an economic announcement in Wellington made by Grant Robertson.
  • National Party leader Judith Collins is in Wellington for another infrastructure announcement.
  • New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is continuing to drive his massive tour bus head first into the deep south. Today, he’s in Waimate and Timaru.
  • Act Party leader David Seymour is back on the road in his election minivan. He’s south of Auckland today, visiting Tuakau, Waiuku and Beachlands.
  • Greens’ co-leader Marama Davidson is in Auckland for a kōrero with campaign volunteers and volunteering at the Waka for Caring (a drop-in centre in Manurewa). I have no idea where her counterpart James Shaw is.

8.15am: Promised National Party policies could change due to costings

Judith Collins has defended her party’s vast election promises, but admitted some may change as a result of pre-election costings.

The National Party has so far promised billions in transport infrastructure, school developments, a health plan, and a hospital rebuild.

Speaking on RNZ, Collins said her party will release a “fully costed fiscal plan” which will show exactly how the money is being spent.

“We will be doing that following the Prefu [pre-election fiscal update] and we think that’s the right thing to do,” she said.

“I think there will be the odd things that do change, a bit, because we will have to adjust given that we don’t have access to the Prefu yet.”

Collins said that “we can’t afford not to do anything” when it comes to issues like methamphetamine, which formed the cornerstone of National’s targeted drug policy launched this week.

7.50am: Some in Mt Roskill cluster ‘didn’t accept the science’– Hipkins

Some close contacts of the Mount Roskill “sub-cluster” of Covid-19 cases were not previously disclosed, health minister Chris Hipkins has said, following a student at St Dominic’s Catholic College testing positive for Covid-19 yesterday. And, it’s now been revealed some in the ever-growing cluster were “sceptical” about the science behind Covid-19.

The West Auckland college has now closed for a deep clean and the student has since been linked as a close contact to the cluster. There were four new community cases of the coronavirus yesterday, all linked to the church as well.

Hipkins told RNZ the student had slipped through the contact tracing cracks. “One of the things about the close contact system is you do have to rely on people giving accurate information.” At least one did not, he said, but it’s not known whether this was deliberate or not.

“That’s one of the things that the investigation is looking at now and it will include looking at whether there was a deliberate decision not to disclose, or whether it was simply an oversight,” Hipkins said.

The sick student attended class on Friday before going home early, and at least two neighbouring schools are connected to the latest case.

It would appear at this stage, Hipkins said, that many of the new Covid-19 cases linked to the church have been close contacts.

“It’s been a challenging cluster to work with… there are certainly some within the cluster that haven’t previously accepted the science involved here,” Hipkins said. The concern of more people being missed by contact tracing is the thing that keeps him awake every night,” he said.

They have been educated on the severity of the matter, he said.

“It would certainly appear that they were skeptical at the beginning,” Hipkins said. “I think that a lot of work has been done with them since then.”

Anybody who has any connection to this the is strongly encouraged get a test.

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

New guidelines for sexuality and relationships education in schools have been released, with the aim of making them more inclusive places. It’s an area of culture that has changed a lot over recent decades, and the strong impression given by these changes is that the education system is now catching up with that. An in-depth report on internal affairs minister Tracey Martin’s announcement of the changes was put together by Stuff’s Laura Wiltshire. I feel comfortable making that point above about culture change, because the announcement took place at Onslow College. That’s a Wellington school in which the students quoted in the piece speak completely differently and seemingly have very different attitudes to how I remember the school I left a bit over a decade ago – even if it was widely considered a liberal school then too.

The main theme of the changes is that they’re aimed around teaching kids how to have healthy relationships, says Martin. The Onslow principal quoted in the story also said it would give schools “a mandate to have conversations about diversity and inclusiveness at school, and within school communities.”Family Planning put out a release saying the new education guidelines are welcome, but nationally consistent implementation was now needed – something that hasn’t necessarily happened with sexuality education in the past. “My worry is that it’s close to 20 years since we first developed guidelines and we’ve had no meaningful change since then. The guidelines alone won’t deliver the fundamental change we need – we’re going to need more from the Ministry to support schools to deliver this work,” said chief executive Jackie Edmond.

Some changes will be controversial. I don’t mean that in the sense they’re the wrong thing to do – rather in the literal sense that there will be noise generated around them. Without wanting to do the job of talkback producers around the country, the headline on this NZ Herald article – “Schools have been told to let students choose their own gender identities and names” – would probably get the phones ringing. Some on the more socially conservative edge of politics see this sort of thing as a form of social engineering – I have been in plenty of public meetings where it is described in the terms of being a top down ideological project, aimed at shaping the next generation away from values held by their parents. But again, I’d come back to the point up the top of this Bulletin – the changes appear to reflect a shift in culture that has already taken place on the ground, rather than the other way around.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here 

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

The government announced a $47.6 million travel reimbursement scheme.

India overtook Brazil to become the second-worst country for Covid-19 cases.

The government announced additional support for Auckland high school students impacted by the recent level three lockdown.

The Countdown in New Lynn, West Auckland, closed for deep cleaning after being visited by a Covid case on September 4.

There were six new cases of Covid-19, with four in the community, linked to the Mt Roskill church sub-cluster, and the remaining two in managed isolation.

Labour announced a raft of policies aimed at helping small businesses, including extending the small business loan scheme and capping Paywave fees.

National pledged to upgrade Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

Read yesterday’s updates in full here.



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